Baltic Heritage Network Conference in Riga

September 8, 2015

The fourth Baltic Heritage Network conference was held at the Latvian Academy of Sciences from 30 June to 2 July. This time, the theme of the conference was Tracing the Baltic Road to Independence in Diaspora Archives.

Approximately 25 years have passed since the Baltic countries regained their independence and the events leading up to it. How and in what way did Baltic émigrés contribute to these changes? Is this reflected in archives, museums and libraries, and to what extent? Those were the topics spoken about in Riga.

This year’s conference was to first be held outside of Estonia. All previous BaltHerNet conferences from 2006 and onwards have taken place in Tartu.

One of the main organisers of the conference, Kristine Bekere from the Latvian Academy of Sciences, had invited an impressive selection of Latvian speakers to the opening. The first to greet us was Ojārs Spārītis, the president of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, who emphasised the importance of Baltic cooperation and joint research in the documentation and treatment of important historical events. The following greetings came from the representative of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pēteris Elferts, Ambassador-at-Large for the Diaspora, and from Māra Sprūdža, Head of the National Archives in Latvia. The Baltic Heritage Network’s president Piret Noorhani said words of welcome.

The conference participants had travelled from Latvia as well as from Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, England, the USA, Canada and Australia. The conference presenters were both professional and voluntary archivists and librarians, as well as community activists and, of course, academic researchers. The topic at hand was the fight for freedom, examined from different viewpoints, the role of the media, émigré visits to the homeland, and much more. The last speech also featured a recently released CD compilation of Estonian diaspora pop music. The record, which has become immensely popular in Estonia, was sold out in less than two weeks; the next edition is about to hit the shops.

The evenings without presentations were spent in Riga’s nice cafés and restaurants. Those evenings were in a way also good work – as Māra Sprūdža emphasised in her speech: conference breaks are at least as important as the official sessions, since that is when information and ideas are exchanged that later become future projects.

Needless to say, study visits to Riga’s memory institutions also took place. We were introduced to the National Archives of Latvia, the Latvian Museum of Occupations and the new main building of the National Library, which has been called the Latvian building of the century, and carries the poetic name ‘the Palace of Light’.

The Baltic Heritage Network’s annual meeting was also held during the conference. The current board was re-elected in its present form; Piret Noorhani (President), Kristine Bekere (Vice President), Jolanta Budriūnienė (Vice President), Karin Kiisk (Secretary), Birgit Kibal and Guntis Svitinš. During the coming three years, the task of this group will be to hold our big, friendly and cooperative network together and to help keep us going.

The next conference will take place in three years – it will then be held in Tartu, at the Estonian National Museum’s new building. 2018 is an important milestone for the Baltic countries, and we will try to celebrate in an appropriate manner – the Estonian National Museum’s new building is a very suitable place for that.

Piret Noorhani